A choir of refugee and asylum seeking women in Leeds performed their songs at a showing of Benjamin Zephaniah’s popular Refugee Boy at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last month.
Fifteen Refugee Council clients joined the choir as part of a six month project led by the theatre, set up to promote wider engagement with the region’s refugees and asylum seekers.
The group, Asmarina Voices, meaning ‘united’ in Eritrean, is made up of women from countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, and many are living in uncertainty as they wait for a decision on their asylum claims. They meet for an hour every Friday to sing, and while the run of Refugee Boy has now ended, the group continues.
Rose McCarthy, who co-ordinates the Health Befriending Network for the Refugee Council in Leeds and who helped put the group together said:
“We’re so pleased to be working with the West Yorkshire Playhouse on this project. Most of the clients we work with have really tough lives and they need a bit of fun. Singing has helped many of the women in the choir come to terms with their experiences, through the support, friendship and fun they have had. They have fantastic voices, and we were delighted they could showcase this at a performance of Refugee Boy.”
Rose said that one of the women, who is living in an initial accommodation centre said:
“When we sing, I leave all my troubles behind and forget I am an asylum seeker. I felt so proud singing in the West Yorkshire Playhouse and was shocked that so many people wanted to hear us.”
The Refugee Council is working with the West Yorkshire Playhouse to support them in their bid to become the first “Theatre of Sanctuary”, as part of the City of Sanctuary movement. So far, they have held awareness raising sessions with Refugee Council staff, and have held consultations with refugees and asylum seekers living in the city. They have held drama sessions for Refugee Council clients, and offered refugees and asylum seekers free tickets to showings of Refugee Boy.